Monday, October 31, 2016

Halloween with Lee Thayer

Happy Halloween from the American Trade Bindings Collection at UNCG!  After a very busy summer, we’re back with an October pick for you to enjoy as you surreptitiously pilfer candy from your child’s trick or treat bag.  Our featured title is The Scrimshaw Millions, by Lee Thayer (New York: Sears Publishing Company, 1932), and is a part of Special Collections’ large Robbie Emily Dunn Collection of American Detective Fiction.

The book’s cover features a jaunty skull and crossbones wearing(!) spats and a rakishly tipped top hat.  Naturally enough, it’s also smoking a cigarette.  But what catches the binding lover’s eye as much as the cover is the name on the cover – Lee Thayer, aka Emma Redington Lee Thayer (1874-1973), one of the original two Decorative Designers.  For those who don’t know of the firm, they were founded in 1895 by Henry Thayer, who was trained as an architect.  He quickly hired Emma Redington Lee, trained in decorative arts at the Cooper Union, Pratt Institute, and Associated Artists.  Lee married Thayer in 1909, and was thereafter known as Lee Thayer.  What made the Decorative Designers unique for a design firm was that it included several artists and used division of labor to complete designs.  The firm also included (at various times and for varying lengths of time) Rome K. Richardson and Adam Empie who transferred and engraved designs, and Charles Buckles Falls and Jay Chambers who provided figures.  These artists also created cover designs on their own, sometimes using their own monograms (for example, "RR" by Rome Richardson and "F" by Charles Buckles Falls).  Henry Thayer did much of the lettering, and Lee Thayer, provided borders, and ornamental designs.  The firm dissolved in 1931, but was able to produce the astonishing output of over 25,000 design items, including thousands of book covers.  The American Trade Bindings Collection currently includes 120 covers by the Decorative Designers. (1)

But Lee Thayer had another career -- mystery novelist -- which began well before the dissolution of the Decorative Designers.